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A Clatsop Christmas 

Publisher's Note

"Get up, you lot, it's Christmas!" But with the ground still soaking, and our new roof already leaking, we've shivered the night more than slept. "And ready your rifles, boys."

We're huddled inside our somber outpost; some want to call it Fort Clatsop for the local chief who told us the elk were plentiful here. We've not yet proved that rumor, but the rain is no myth. This is a miserable, forsaken land, indeed, and even though we're not the most ardent of spirit, we'll mark the day of our savior's birth here, with home heavy in our hearts.

click to enlarge mcgregor.jpg

If I were back in Kentucky, at my father's hearth, I'd have a bottle to myself, but our whiskey stores have long been spent. Yet we have, just two days past, moved into our timbered shelter to wait out the winter.

We collect in the yard, and the captains emerge from their quarters — Captain Lewis looking a little in his moods, Captain Clark hale as ever. We take aim above the curtain of green, into the gray, and fire our salutes, the burst from our barrels washing warm over our faces.

As camp tailor, I've been working on something for the captains and have them ready in my pouch — every stitch checked one last time during the long, soggy night. Horsehide moccasins, with a few red beads I managed to save as a flourish. (The Indians, they do prefer those blue beads in trade.)

The captains review our line, doling out to each a tear of tobacco from the magical store that has stretched like the fishes and the loaves.

When my turn comes, Captain Clark asks, "How are you holding up, Sergeant?" With but a raised eyebrow, his eyes retell our suffering in the snowdrifts of the Rockies, our marooning on a beach across this dismal river and our many nights of privation and uncertainty in this unknown country.

"In good health, sir — something better than all the luxuries this life can afford."

"That's fine," the Captain laughs, "as we've only scraps of elk for Christmas dinner — and no salt. It'll have to do."

He pulls off my share of tobacco, looking a bit larger than the last, and I reveal his gift.

"Beautiful! Thank you, Whitehouse!"

I feel the red in my face: "Thank you, sir," I stammer, "for... seeing us through..." I lose my words in the moment.

"Thank the Lord," he answers.

"Yes, I pray He will preserve us and enable us to return home in safety."

"Indeed, Sergeant," the Captain adds, the downpour cowing the brim of his hat, washing down over his tunic as he raises his voice for all the Corps to hear. "It's a fine day, men! We smell the sea, we take comfort in our own company and, against all probability, we live!"

— Sgt. Joseph Whitehouse, the Corps of Discovery; Dec. 25, 1805

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